What Parents Need To Hear: Raising Jewish Children Makes You a Good Parent

Idie Benjamin & Dale Sides Cooperman

Dale Sides Cooperman and Idie BenjaminWe know. We know that a child’s Jewish identity should be nurtured. We know that dancing on Simhat Torah, lighting Shabbat candles, giving tzedakah, saying te Shema, knowing who Rebecca, Joseph, Moses, and King David are, and understanding that the Israeli flag belongs to all of us brings meaning and values to a child and his or her family’s life. We know that these examples of some of the elements that can make up a Jewish identity are important for the development of a Jewish child and for the development of the whole child. We know that one “ingredient” feeds another; raise a Jewish child and you raise a Jewish family.

We now know is that all this also develops a special kind of parent. Research now affirms what we always knew.

The February 28, 2012 issue of Exchange Today excerpted a thought provoking article from the November 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind. In it, researcher Robert Epstein listed in order of most to least important “10 competencies that predict good parenting outcomes.” He asserts that these ten competencies “predict a strong parent-child bond and children’s happiness, health, and success.”

They are:

  1. Love and affection.
    “You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time together.”
  2. Stress management.
    “You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events.”
  3. Relationship skills.
    “You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other, or co-parent and model effective relationship skills with others.”
  4. Autonomy and independence.
    “You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self-reliant.”
  5. Education and learning.
    “You promote and model learning and provide educational opportunities for your child.”
  6. Life skills.
    “You provide for your child, have a steady income, and plan for the future.”
  7. Behavior management.
    “You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.”
  8. Health.
    “You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition.”
  9. Religion.
    “You support spiritual or religious development and participate in spiritual or religious activities.”
  10. Safety.
    “You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.”

There it was at #9 – Religion. Active participation in the richness of religious tradition makes you a competent parent, a good parent, a parent who cares about what a child needs to be happy, healthy, and successful.

What an epiphany this is for us as Jewish early childhood educators. Let’s consider the implications of this idea for our families and our programs.

This is not about observing an occasional holiday. Just as with everything on the list, good parenting means that every day in so many ways, parents concern themselves loving their children, keeping stress reasonable (and teaching coping skills), nurturing relationships, fostering appropriate independence, seeking out ongoing learning opportunities, managing behavior, teaching healthy habits, keeping children safe, and developing a religious identity.

Let’s look a bit more carefully here. “You support spiritual or religious development and participate in spiritual or religious activities.” Intentional parenting that leads to happy, healthy, and successful children has to include the development of a child’s spiritual or religious identity. A happy family is connected with religious activities, not occasionally but intentionally.

We who are Jewish early childhood educators know that families who embrace Judaism find that it adds something very special to their lives. We know that families who engage with Judaism feel a stronger inner life connected to values, community, and special times spent together as a family.

How many times have we wanted to shout this from the rooftop but pulled back, wondering if we would appear “too Jewish?” When parents are visiting our schools, we rush to tell them about our exciting curriculum, our accreditation levels and school accomplishments, and all that we can do for their children. We do that because we are proud of our early learning environments and our faculty. Parents are so worried about their children’s future success in school, and we know it is what parents want to hear

According to this research, it isn’t all they should hear. They should hear that we will be intentional about creating a spiritual partnership with them, to engage them and their children in meaningful Jewish activities and traditions. They should hear that we will provide opportunities for them to participate in their family’s religious and spiritual growth. They should hear that they are now part of a vibrant and welcoming community, and that we value their family and what they bring to us.

As the new school year begins, let us remember that it is our responsibility to open the doors, not only to our classrooms, but to a richer and more meaningful Jewish life. These families have entrusted us with their most precious “possessions;” they have come to us seeking a positive foundation for their children. It is essential that we are cognizant of the importance of our work. Let us remember that we strengthen families by providing a joyful and ongoing connection to Jewish spirituality and tradition. Let’s not be shy about it.